WADING RIVER, New York (PIX11) -- When you look at photos of Heidi Halpine from twenty years ago, she is a beaming mom, at age 25, feeding her second daughter during a game at Yankees Stadium.
Now, at 45, she uses a cane and limps slowly around her home. She can’t walk without pain.
Since 2008, Halpine—a mother of three—has relied on strong painkillers to deal with two, back injuries she says she suffered on the job, in the Smithtown school district.
In the first incident, she explained “I went to lean on a table, and the table collapsed,” with Halpine landing on her tailbone.
Halpine told PIX 11 that about six months later, she sustained a second injury, taking a reluctant student to the principal’s office “and he let me know by punching me and knocking me down.”
After undergoing spinal surgery and developing a staph infection, Halpine said her problems escalated, and she came to rely on Oxycontin pills, strong opiates.
She was also prescribed a muscle relaxant that’s a controlled substance.
“I have tried physical therapy, steroid injections right into the spine, water therapy. The only thing that helps is the medication,” Halpine said.
But now, her supply of prescription painkillers is about to dry up, and Halpine told PIX “I’m afraid of not being able to function.”
For the last, two years, a medical doctor at Choice Pain Management in nearby Rocky Point was prescribing Oxycontin for Halpine.
The “extended release” Oxycontin is paid for by Worker’s Comp and costs $1,078.42 a month.
But the M.D. who wrote the prescription got a visit from Drug Enforcement Administration agents back in February, according to a source.
By the end of February, the doctor announced he was shutting the doors at Choice Pain Management, as of March 31st.
Halpine was given a list of other doctors and pain management centers that might be able to take her on as a patient.
But she’s found no “takers”—after dialing the first half of the list.
Pain management clinics all over Suffolk and Nassau counties have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, ever since a U.S. Army veteran fatally shot four people inside a Medford pharmacy on Father’s Day 2011.
David Laffer was intent on stealing thousands of OxyContin pills to feed his addiction—and his wife’s.
Since the late 1990’s, when painkillers flooded the marketplace, an epidemic of addiction has exploded among the middle-aged and the young.
The pill popping spawned a severe heroin abuse problem on Long Island, affecting kids who started experimenting with painkillers, before gravitating to cheaper bags of heroin.
Halpine said her three daughters “got a much better mother” when she received help from painkillers.
“I wasn’t able to see some of their accomplishments at school,” she sobbed to PIX 11, “because I just couldn’t go. I couldn’t get out of bed.”
Dr. David Gentile, who runs Oasis Integrative Medicine right next door to Choice Pain Management, disagrees with doctors who are quick to prescribe strong opioids for chronic pain.
“I do not want to see patients coming through doctors’ offices just for opioids or controlled substances,” Gentile said. “That’s not the way to fix pain.”
Gentile worries more and more Americans are coming to rely on painkillers for “not just the motor vehicle accidents, but it’s everything else. Toxins, lifestyle, stress, that also add to pain.”
He offers various therapies like “manipulation, acupuncture, pain injection.” He said if absolutely needed, pharmaceuticals do get prescribed.
Heidi Halpine told us “I’m not afraid of the pain. I’m afraid of not being able to function, because of the pain.” And she quotes people who may not understand what she’s going through.
“They said, you know ‘Suck it up! People have pain. Does it really hurt that much?’”